Ahh, the Olympics.
A symbol of human solidarity in a world rent by bloody factionalism. A chance to see athleticism at its most pure and noble and inspiring. A forum for non-violent and friendly competition among nation-states. An opportunity for the talking-head glitterati to inadvertently demonstrate that the emperor of cultural correctness wears no clothes.
I refer, with that last observation, to NBC’s preferred term of reference for this year’s host city.
I gritted my teeth but dealt with the last round of this nonsense, when the enlightened beautiful people on TV spoke of the events in “Bar-THAY-low-nah,” as if Katie Couric and her perky band of multi-culti misfits were heirs to the aristocracy of Castille.
But “Torino?” In the English-speaking world, the Italian city hosting the present Olympiad is called “Turin.”
Granted: In Italian, the city is called “Torino.” But proper speakers of English don’t call it that, any more than we call Venice “Venezia” or Florence “Firenze” or Rome “Roma” (or even “Urbs,” to be extra-special sophisticated).
This exaggerated cosmopolitanism is especially grating when it panders to the desperate need of some to be perceived as culturally sensitive. And so the teetotalers of toleration mimic the speech patterns of indigenous peoples (even if they’re just Italians) in order to appear more educated and more tolerant than the rubes in Red State America.
Newsflash to NBC: Having your correspondents pronounce foreign place-names in unusual ways is not a sign of enlightenment — rather, it is a caricature of smarter-than-thou liberal journalism on open display. When addressing an English-speaking audience, it’s generally advisable to communicate in English.
I do, however, concede some limits on a relentless Anglicization of foreign words. We do not, for example, generally refer to the last leader of Imperial Germany as “Emperor William II” or even as “King Bill” – we quite properly call him Kaiser Wilhelm. Nor do most people ask for a “croy-SANT” with their morning coffee and “horz da vorz” before their evening meal. And we often, legitimately, flit between “czar” and “tsar” in reference to the male monarchs of Russia, and between “Beijing” and “Peking” depending on whether we’re referring to the capital city of China or the delicious meal of duck named after it.
But “Turin” is well-established in English usage (think of the Shroud of Turin), more so than “Torino.” Ask most Americans to define “Torino,” and you may well find more people thinking it’s a defunct car model from the 1970s instead of the venerable Italian city that it is.
I will not watch the 2006 Olympics, for no other reason than because I’m disgusted with NBC’s assault upon the language. Silly? Perhaps. But one must draw the line somewhere, and protesting the corruption of conventional English syntax is no less absurd than pretending that figure skating is actually a sport.